Maurice Holt

03 December 2008

Maurice Holt, a professor emeritus of aeronautical sciences in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a renowned scholar of and educator in fluid dynamics, died of respiratory failure on Nov. 7 at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley. He was 90.

In his 48 years on the Berkeley faculty, Holt raised computational fluid dynamics to a dominant role in the study of fluid dynamics. He also served as a consultant for NASA and the Office of Naval Research, among other institutions. His work on supersonic and transonic aerodynamics, blast waves, underwater explosions, and supersonic separated flows is cataloged in more than 100 published papers and technical reports.

Holt contributed to nine books; his Numerical Methods in Fluid Dynamics, published by Springer-Verlag in two editions (1977, 1983), introduced Western scientists to new approaches developed by Soviet scientists. Russian was one of the languages Holt spoke, and he translated several books on fluid dynamics from Russian into English. He also lectured in French.

"After his love for his family, my dad was most passionate about teaching, and he was loyal to Cal and the Cal Bears," said his daughter, Helen Holt. "He attended games until just a few years ago."

Born in 1918 in the village of Wildboarclough in Cheshire, England, to parents who were teachers there, Holt attended Manchester Grammar School and went on to receive his bachelor's degree in 1940, master's degree in 1944, and Ph.D. in 1948, all from the University of Manchester.

After graduation he got a job as an assistant lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Liverpool. A year later, he joined the University of Sheffield as a lecturer in applied mathematics. In 1952 he moved to the Ministry of Supply in Kent, where he served as the principal scientific officer in charge of theoretical aerodynamics in the Applied Mathematics Division. In 1955 he headed to the United States as a visiting mathematics lecturer at Harvard University; one year later, he joined the applied-mathematics faculty at Brown University.

Holt began his Berkeley career in 1960 and became professor emeritus in 1988. During his active years he taught and mentored more than three dozen doctoral students from around the world and kept in touch with most of them after they left campus. Between 1974 and 1977 he was the department's vice chair of graduate study, handling graduate affairs and strengthening graduate programs.

He was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; a member of the American Physical Society, the American Mathematical Society, and Sigma Xi; and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He also co-founded the International Conference on Numerical Methods in Fluid Dynamics.

"He was a kind man who had more friends around the world than most can claim," said Stanley Berger, a Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering. "He was a man who knew how to enjoy life."

Holt was an avid traveler. In 1969 he took his wife and daughters to Europe and Russia, where they traveled around in a Volkswagen camper. More than 30 years ago the Holts, who raised five children, including two sets of twins, bought a 16th-century house in a small village in Limeuil, France, and spent summers restoring the home, gardening, and stocking their wine cellar.

Among Holt's other joys were playing and listening to music (he played piano and organ, attended performances of the San Francisco Symphony, and enjoyed jazz, especially Fats Waller); playing tennis; reading author John le Carré; political humor; reading The New York Times and The New Yorker; and watching Jeopardy!

Holt is survived by his wife of 66 years, Eileen; sons Nicholas Holt of Los Angeles and Christopher Holt of Berkeley; daughters Helen, of Berkeley, and Caroline, of Mountain View; sister Celia, of Berkeley; seven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Valerie Holt Cohen, and his sister, Mary Benson.

Plans are pending for a campus memorial to celebrate Holt's life.

—Megan Mansell Williams, College of Engineering